Volunteers with Moms Demand Action hold up signs with the organization’s name at the state Capitol to show their support for a bill that would prohibit people convicted of domestic violence offenses from possessing firearms. Photo by Kelsey Mo | Cronkite News
On a cold December day, a man asked his estranged wife if he could drop off a birthday present for their son. Despite an order of protection against him, she relented and agreed to see him.
Instead of arriving at their Phoenix home with a gift, he brought a gun and left her dead on the street.
Nearly three decades after Irene Diaz lost her sister to murder, she’s fighting for her sister and other victims of domestic violence.
Diaz, who said she also is a survivor of domestic abuse, joined the Arizona chapter of Moms Demand Action to push for a law that would prevent people convicted of domestic abuse from possessing a firearm and require them to relinquish guns they possess.
Senate Bill 1219 also would prohibit domestic abusers who are subject to final orders of protection from possessing a firearm.
Under current law, a judge decides whether someone convicted of domestic violence has to give up gun ownership, according to Jessica Manos, who leads the state chapter of Moms Demand Action. The group works to end gun violence.
Domestic violence is widespread. In a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based on data from 2010-12, more than 1 in 4 women experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, sponsored the bill, which she calls essential to protecting Arizona families. At a news conference at the state Capitol this week, she also said the presence of a gun during a domestic violence incident makes it five times more likely that a woman will be shot and killed.
“Twenty-nine states from every region in the country have taken action to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and it’s time for our state to do the same thing,” she said, pounding her fist on the lectern.
Federal law bans those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing firearms.
Charles Heller, a lobbyist for the Arizona Citizens Defense League, a prominent local gun rights organization, called the bill stupid and unnecessary because federal law already prohibits people convicted of domestic abuse from having firearms.
“If people who proposed this legislation knew anything, they would know this. But they don’t,” he said. “These people suffer from a derangement that somehow passing more laws will change anything. Enforce the existing law.”
Manos said state and local law enforcement can’t enforce federal laws, a loophole this bill would close.
“You can’t send the FBI in for every single gun offense,” she said.
Carter’s bill, which has bipartisan support, has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but hasn’t yet received a hearing. But Manos is confident it will be heard and added if it doesn’t, the group won’t let it go.
A sister remembers
The details of that day are still seared in Irene Diaz’s memory.
Her sister’s marriage was rife with domestic violence, she said. Her sister’s husband had threatened to hurt her sister several times in the past and police were called.
When he arrived at the home in Phoenix, he was greeted by the couple’s son. The father kissed his son’s forehead and said, “I love you, mijo,” and told him to go back into the house.
Then, Diaz said, the husband chased her sister around his car before shooting her in the heart. She was 30 when she died that day, under a streetlight in Phoenix.
She asked that other family names not be used because her brother-in-law recently was released from prison, according to Arizona Department of Corrections records, and Diaz worries for her safety.
Diaz has mourned her sister’s death for 28 years. Some days are better than others: Her sister’s birthday and the anniversary of her death are especially difficult.
“I wish the calendar god would come and take that day off the calendar, because it’s such a nightmare to live through that day,” she said.
She said a new gun law could help other women in Arizona.
“Oftentimes, victims of domestic violence keep secrets,” she said. “Do not keep your secrets. That’s how these abusers have all that power over you.”
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